By Mary Anna Mancuso, RepublicEn.org
Unprecedented clear skies over Los Angeles, London, the entire country of China are the direct result of economic slowdowns plus stay-at-home orders keeping people out of their cars.
In Northern India, residents can see the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years. Unfortunately, the durable image of Florida in the era of coronavirus may end up being crowded beaches and inconsistent application of CDC’s guidelines on COVID-19.
Nonetheless, our state and the rest of the U.S. have an unprecedented opportunity to rejigger our economy in a way that puts public health and the environment on the front, rather than back, burner.
There are myriad lessons to learn from the COVID-19 tragedy. First and foremost is that a quick response is the best response. Another significant takeaway is that we need to acknowledge that the environment has a direct impact on our public health.
A recent Harvard study found people with COVID-19 who live in U.S. regions with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the disease than people who live in less polluted areas. I hope in the recovery process, our lawmakers take this into consideration when propping up the economy.
Under the U.S.’s current energy policy, fossil fuels enjoy an unlimited subsidy to dump CO2 into the atmosphere. That CO2, in turn, causes climate change. As the world has seen all too painfully with COVID-19, a global catastrophe is hard to respond to in a consistent and effective manner.
But if the U.S. imposed a revenue-neutral, border-adjustable carbon tax, we could fix that. The key part here is to make it border adjustable. That means that we assess a tax on goods if the country that produced them isn’t taking meaningful steps to reduce carbon emissions.
Economists are confident that rather than paying the fee at the border, those governments without carbon emissions reduction plans will impose them. The result: global response to a global problem before we hit the urgent stage we find ourselves in with COVID-19.
We as a nation are watching as our elected officials learn lessons in real time about the viral spread of the coronavirus and the damage it is having on our society.
We have seen the grim reality of what happens when our leaders ignore the experts, downplay the seriousness of a pandemic, and opt for a revisionist history instead of acting swiftly to find a solution. In Florida, the next few weeks may demonstrate the harm of a delayed response and inconsistent application of guidelines.
The time lost from the delay in responding to the pandemic should serve as a lesson for climate change. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Suppressing facts and lying to the global community does more harm than good.
Our public health system in America is being stretched to the seams. But the cold hard truth is that this pandemic did not take us by surprise. Public health experts warned for years that a pandemic was inevitable.
During the transition between the Obama administration to the Trump administration there was a tabletop exercise on a global pandemic. And yet, when faced with an actual pandemic, the Trump administration was slow to act and ineffective and inconsistent when it tried to respond. Trump’s myopic vision on the economy has clouded his ability to properly lead in this moment.
Trump has called coronavirus the silent enemy and he’s not wrong.
But it is not the only silent enemy. Climate change is another pending health crisis, and like coronavirus, it can be stopped if we act now.
There is an opportunity for us to apply what we have learned about the pandemic to climate change. Primarily, listen to the experts before it’s too late. Climate change is a public health crisis in the making. Congress can curb the climate crisis by carefully structuring the next pandemic stimulus packages. They shouldn’t just dole out more bailouts, but really focus on shifting our energy paradigm.
The climate crisis awaits us. It will cause considerable harm unless we act now. Sheltering in place will not be an option if the planet we live on is no longer inhabitable.
Mary Anna Mancuso is a spokesperson for RepublicEn.org and political strategist based in Florida.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.